By Keith Armando Gomes
Antonio Jose D’Souza, better known even by the kids in his village as Joe de Cavelossim, is a stout man with a roaring baritone that almost puts the fear of God in one at first acquaintance, but if you hang on for just another tiny second you discover a man who has an abundance of hugs, cheers and handshakes to offer. This jolly ol’ man is today proud at having placed the ‘Lifetime Contribution to Tiatr’ award, bequeathed upon him as a laurel by the Tiatr Academy of Goa, on his mantelshelf. He doesn’t need photographs nor does he need a folder full of certificates or documents to show that in front of a stage curtain he is an actor who couldn’t possibly have gone unrecognised for his acting. Personally, he describes his acting as forceful.
Born on February 9, 1950 as Antonio Jose D’Souza in Dhobitalao, Bombay, he reached Cavelossim, Goa at the age of one, where he was destined to boundless glory. “At the age of ten, at school, all decked up in a school dress I sang a song written by my father Francisco D’Souza, who was referred to as Jimmy Boss on the tiatr stage.” What makes this event significant goes as follows; “After I had finished singing three people came up to me and gave me small cash rewards and that encouraged me.”
With his arms spread wide and his chest bloated like a triumphant lion Joe says that when he received this awards “Aun phullo aani maka tiatr korpa umeed aili.” His robust demeanor and colourful face leaves no doubt that this man has left his mark on the stage. He then embraces every memory he can rediscover and puts it before me on a platter. “After this many people asked me to sing at weddings and it was then that Patrick Duorado approached me.” He adds almost as an afterthought, “It was more than a blessing.” He doesn’t even take a break for a quick breath and continues, “Patrick would make us sit in a circle and give us our roles one by one. He gave me the role of a police inspector in the play ‘Niraxi’ and that ran almost 50 shows.”
Upon request he shares a private memory which he had locked away: “In our times there were no scripts, you see. I had to make my own lines and expressions. So I dressed up and with a stick in my hand began rehearsing for the role in front of the mirror that was embedded in my mother’s closet. I checked my facial expressions and my body language and corrected it wherever I considered it fit. But in the heat of the moment I raised the stick and as I struck it down it hit the mirror and the mirror broke. My father was so angry, but I told him that I would act and buy a new mirror for the closet.” He laughs for a moment and then plunges back into the tale. “After that in the1970s I acted in Patrick’s ‘Dev Borem Korum’ and for it I received eighteen cash rewards from people. They would rush to meet me during the interval and then aun aani phullo.” And it was past that singular benchmark in his life that Antonio Jose D’Souza gained the honorary title of Joe de Cavelossim along with which came the opportunity to work with the likes of Roseferns, Prince Jacob, Marcelino de Betim, Joe Rose and Menino de Bandar. “I acted with them, even helped in direction.”
Joe de Cavelossim belongs to a generation of men who worked with both hands and the mind; “During the day I would ride my bicycle for over forty-five minutes from my house in Cavelossim to Shanti Lal Company in Madgaon where I was an apprentice mechanic. I had to quit school because my parents couldn’t afford it. I supported my family and while cycling in my mind I would be busy planning out my lines and expressions for the tiatrs I was working in.” This man’s enthusiasm was seamless and his dedication to both family and tiatr was exemplary.
His sun tanned Goan skin takes on a pink hue as he blushes and tells about how he met his lovely wife, a talented tiatrist, Rofina D’Souza; “I was rushing off stage in a play where both of us were acting. And in that rush I bumped into her amongst curtains and there began our story together.” Their story itself is like a romantic play where the boy and girl meet once and unite forever. He adds: “We worked as hero and heroin in ‘Nimnni Chitt’ which was by Roseferns.”
There his personal story is then gently kept aside and Joe continues with the story of his tiatr journey. “I was a part of Patrick’s troupe, and you couldn’t easily work outside a troupe. Plus Patrick would never let me go and that is why I was a part of his troupe for eighteen long years. But I would still make some time to work in other tiatrs and zomnivoilo khells.” Slowly his memory of the khells grows clearer. “There would be dust flying around because we acted on the mud and the audience would form a circle around us. This dust would at times choke my voice and to deal with that I began drinking warm water.” Joe, in order to preserve his deep rich voice till date drinks only warm water and refrains from any form of indulgence, a fact that almost leaves one gasping for breath. Having worked with an astounding twenty one directors this man went on to write his own plays. ‘Chuk Konnachi’, ‘Mhozo Put’ and ‘Ghara Mai’. He also mentions: “My wife played the role of the protagonist – the mai – in my play ‘Ghara Mai’ and she was so good that she made people cry.” This man, who is remembered for his loud impactful lines and dramatic pauses, still chooses to act with his wife at the Cavelossim carnivals.
As he nears the end of his story he shares another remarkable anecdote: “In ‘Rogot’ there occurred a ridiculous accident. There was a young lad who had to come on stage to shoot a character. Now, when his scene came he was nowhere to be found. It was a moment of total panic, even the background music came up. I had just finished my scene and was sitting backstage. I saw everyone running around and decided to take a hold of the situation. I put on a shawl, which the boy was supposed to wear and went on stage, completely in disguise, and acted out the shooting scene. Later on, this boy was found sleeping under the stage because he had had a little too much to drink.”
This man almost comes off as a real-life-hero in the evocative little tales he shares. Finally, the rather exhilarating conversation quite unfortunately comes to an end with a few thoughts that Joe shares. “In our time there was a lot of struggle. We had to come up with the dialogues. We didn’t have cars or bikes, only cycles which we rode on kaccha roads with lamps in our hands as there were no street lights. There were tiatr troupes that came from Bombay and after the late night show they slept in the Madgaon garden and then took the morning bus home. Ours were trying times but we would never give up, we would go on stage and put on a show we could be proud of.” He leaves a small advice, “Sometimes, in today’s plays, the tiatrist sing comedy songs while wearing descent dresses and suits or vice versa. It is important to maintain the costume with the action on stage. Such little things often go ignored but these are the ones that add to the total effect of tiatr.” He finally bids adieu by saying: “All of this, the love and appreciation, the awards and all the tiatr memories are beyond any dream I could ever have. I, thank God and all those who have been there to help me.”